Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Sabine Peterka, a young adult Fellow who served in Boston during the 2021-2022 year, shared snippets from her year.
Maybe a month from now or in a couple of years or a decade, I’ll have fit my QVS year into a narrative about my personal growth. I will have identified a through-line to form a segment of my life path. But right now I’m holding the year as a collection of specific experiences: words people said to me, activities I participated in, things I saw.
During these 11 months, we as a larger community of people have also experienced some things together. I’m sure a lot of the events of the year that I thought and talked about were also things you were thinking and talking about wherever you were at the time. I made this timeline to share what was going on for me at work and at home as we all experienced the larger-scale events of 2021 and 2022. This timeline of events could also be seen as a record of what it’s been like to be in QVS this year, and what it’s been like to experience this year in QVS. For each month of my QVS year so far, I included an event from the broader world, from my site placement in a youth fitness and nutrition program in East Boston and from my home in the Boston QVS house.
— — —
US Troops Withdraw From Afghanistan as Taliban Gain Power
My housemates and I gather for the first time in a lantern-lit gazebo guarded by slugs. Two days later, we leave Pendle Hill’s campus and navigate through an airport crowded with uniformed people trying to keep us separate from the newly arrived Afghans.
Democrats Hope to Pass the For the People Act and Infrastructure Bill
On the first day of afterschool program, a 9-year-old skins his knee. Blood runs down his leg but he’s so eager to rejoin the game, I can barely get him to sit still long enough to wipe the blood off and slap a bandaid on.
My housemates and I think about our needs and pet peeves, pull out some paper and hash out a chore rotation:
- Upstairs Bathroom
- Downstairs Bathroom
- Trash & Recycling
- Sweeping & Vacuuming
- Tidying & Communal Laundry
Britney Spears Fights to End Conservatorship
At work, the kids covet the job of passing out hand sanitizer and snack to their peers.
After dinner, I sit on the living room floor watching Sex Education with my housemates, enjoying some relaxing time together.
Omicron Variant Leads to New Wave in COVID-19 Deaths
Every kid at work has to check in with me when they arrive. I ask:
- In the past 10 days have you had a cough, sore throat, fever or difficulty breathing? No.
- In the past 10 days have you tested positive for COVID? No.
- In the past 10 days have you been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID? No.
- Are you ready to play? Yes!
In the kitchen, my housemate poses a question to everyone: How do you like to be cared for?
bell hooks Dies
Virtual zumba is poorly attended but the kids connecting in the zoom chat make it worth it:
R: I’m so tired I feel like I’m dying
C: I feel so alive!
C: This is the best song yet
I: WHAT TIME DOES THIS END
I: sorry for the all caps
E: I feel alive
At home, one of my housemates restlessly looks for new jobs outside QVS.
First Anniversary of the January 6 Insurrection
A kid hurts her leg in after-school program. I give her an ice pack and tell her to sit out. Within 2 minutes, two more kids have faked leg injuries of their own so they can sit next to her and try to cheer her up.
My housemate wants to get to know me better. Privately, I wonder how the hell to let them do that. We schedule a breakfast date.
Russia Invades Ukraine
It’s basically World War III, an 8-year-old informs me at work. What if bombs went off right here?
An LSC member drops off chocolates and 7 snowglobes frosted over from sitting in her car. In our kitchen over the course of the day, the snowglobes de-frost to reveal 7 stylish, bespectacled llamas.
Florida Passes Don’t Say Gay Bill
One of the kids I work with tells me his football coach made him run 100 sprints for showing up to practice with his hair in a bunch of little ponytails even though it was Crazy Hair Day. I must look pretty horrified because he starts to defend his coach to me: He’s ok with gay people and all that, it’s just that he wants to make sure everybody’s hair fits under the helmet.
My family comes to Boston for a visit. All your housemates are so nice; I would immediately trust any of them with my life, my sister tells me. Hypothetical trust is easy, but the real trust forms slower.
Amazon Workers Move to Unionize
I play soccer with the kids and one of them wants to get the ball so badly that he keeps stealing it from his teammates. When another kid gets mad at him, I pull him aside. You’re on the same team, I remind him. Try to get open and someone will pass you the ball.
A housemate tests positive for COVID and we all wear masks in our house but manage to crack some jokes during a backyard, distanced dinner, one of us wearing snow pants to be warm enough.
Mass Shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde
My coworker comes back into the gym from the hall where the front desk workers are watching the news and he whispers the details to me. Our hearts break as we watch the kids playing whose safety is our job: their masks slip down as they run to reveal the corners of smiles.
At house meeting, we try a meditation: breathe in suffering, breathe out peace.
Supreme Court overturns Roe vs Wade
During snack time, kids perfect their water bottle-flipping skills, a practice I didn’t know could also be used to tell fortunes. Ask a question and if I flip the bottle and land it standing up the answer is yes, one kid declares.
Will I have kids? someone asks. The bottle is flipped and lands standing up. The crowd cheers.
My housemates brainstorm ideas for a house worship activity: How about an optional hugging worship? Hug each other, hug a tree, hug yourself?
— — —
We all had to hold and respond to many really difficult realities this year. When I heard news about big hateful, violent things happening in our world, I felt heavy with the truths of all the ways we have failed to make a safe and nurturing world for the kids I work with. Building community with loving, inspired, visionary people has made me feel resilient. I am also grateful to have been learning from and alongside kids about how to voice fears, dream wildly and grow relationships. I don’t know how to meet the despairs of the world other than continuing to try and live into my values on the small scales of my communities.
More about Sabine
Sabine Peterka (she/her) grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and recently graduated from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Environmental Studies and minors in Geography and Music. She is passionate about environmental justice and especially food justice and has explored these themes through work on organic farms and gardens, the Food Recovery Network and the Sunrise Movement. She is excited to be working with the Let’s Get Movin’ program at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
What sorts of programming and tools are Fellows offered during their year?
Every other Friday throughout the 11-month fellowship, QVS Fellows attend QVS Days instead of working at their site placements.
QVS Days offer Fellows a chance to slow down and be in community. For the first part of the year, QVS staff take the lead in planning and facilitating QVS Days. They support Fellows in exploring their individual and communal journeys, as well as discussing work, community living, Quakerism, spiritual practices, and social justice issues. As the year progresses, Fellows take a more active role in planning and facilitating QVS Days.
Over the course of the year, Fellows learn tools like: clerking and Quaker decision-making processes, clearness committees, conflict transformation, signs of defensiveness, and tons more. Additionally, at the start of the year, Fellows attend a week-long orientation with all QVS Fellows from across the country, as well as a mid-year and a closing retreat with their city cohort.
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